Marathon Running in the Tropics
Story by: Gail Symons
My first marathon, run in Singapore in December last year, highlights some of the factors associated with hot weather running. If you plan to compete or train in a tropical country , these comments may help:
There is an annual marathon in Singapore, alternately organised and called the 'Mobil Marathon' or the 'Singapore International Marathon'. The Mobil marathon of 1997 was well organised, with water stops every 5km, regular sponge stations, clear signposting and kilometre markers the whole way.
The main factors worth noting were:
Dehydration: The risk of dehydration in the tropics is very real and not something every runner keeps somewhere in the back of their minds. Running occurs in about 34 degree temperatures, with almost 100% humidity. Although the marathon starts at 6am to take advantage of the cooler morning, the heat usually kicks in by 7.30am and turns into a blazing day. Sunblock, coolmax clothing, sunglasses, a hat and extreme hydration are a must. I made sure I walked through every drink stop, drinking every drop of a cup of water and a cup of isotonic drink at each station. It must have worked because I later saw lots of people retching or bent over with cramps along the way. Getting acclimatised to the tropics is a must because of the draining effects of the heat and the discomfort of running with 'buckets' of sweat running off you.
Awareness of the sport: marathons are not as well established in the tropical countries of South East Asia and the support from spectators is not as present as in countries like Australia, the UK and the US. Support and cheering from spectators drops off significantly at the half way point (just when you need it most!). You have to rely on your own internal 'talk' for support or arrange your own cheer squad. However, other runners, like anywhere, are great en route. Also, organisers arrange for the last 400 metres to be run through the Singapore National Stadium, to rousing cheers from everyone there. A great way to finish.
Safety: because the sport is not well established, support from Police is excellent but limited. Roads are only closed off for elite runners and beginners like myself have to dodge traffic, roadworks and traffic lights towards the end. My partner (who ran with me to keep me company) had a brush with a motorcycle and a car. This is due to the fact that at some points in the race, we were required to run with the flow of the traffic and the traffic just came too close to the runners. On the positive side, Singapore is one of the safest countries to visit in Asia. For example, water and food before and during the marathon are safe. This is different to neighbouring countries where Singapore runners have told me they have seen unsanitary water provided during the run or not provided at all at schedule stops. You can also schedule your marathon around a visit to a neighbouring 'tropical paradise' as most places are a short hop from Singapore.
In summary, don't expect your best times to be done here because of the heat, humidity and running conditions. Also, don't expect a scenic route as the marathon is mainly run through city streets. However, it does provide excellent training for hot weather marathons and I'm told you can expect your subsequent times in cooler or less humid temperatures to be better!
Cool Running Australia 18.02.98.